January 5, 2019
If I were a devoutly religious person, I might begin to brandish the notion that I am obviously being tested by a higher power… tested in my faith… tested in my resolve… tested in my something.
But I’m not…
If I were the President of the United States, I would decree that the Democrats and CNN are to blame for it all.
But I’m not (thankfully)… so I’m just gonna call it bullshit and bad luck.
Our return to the Bahamas seemed like a triumphant victory. We had spent the hurricane season exploring the Northeast coast, got shit done on the boat that needed doing, and managed to break free of the clutches of the U.S. once again, despite its’ best efforts to distract, delay and discourage us while simultaneously separating us from all of our money.
After our alternator delay in Norfolk and our subsequent decision to press on rather than spend the time to sort out additional spare parts, it was certainly ironic to arrive at the Bahamas realizing that one of the first orders of business would be to sort out parts.
The issue with leaking coolant was not an immediate emergency but it obviously needed to be dealt with more sooner than later. Complete failure of the cooling system would make the engine inoperable and could instantly create an emergency situation.
Living aboard a sailboat, we are continually reminded that, while a particular situation may not be that significant nor its’ resolution that painful, on a boat the process of getting from a particular situation to its’ resolution can often be significantly painful… inevitably it will, at the least, be more complicated.
Such was the case here… baby steps… progress… delays… setbacks… frustration… baby steps… progress… delays… setbacks… frustration…
Oftentimes I find it quite difficult to convey the essence of some of these logistical minefields. The following is a blow by blow account of the whole process as it unfolded. This is how a rather minor problem with our engine morphed and evolved, eventually turning into a nearly six week ordeal to resolve:
- Arrive at Powell Cay from Norfolk, VA just as the sun is setting
- Chill out recovering from five day offshore passage & wait for milder wind conditions to move
11/23 – 11/25:
- Move 14 nautical miles to Green Turtle Cay as it has the easiest access to Customs/Immigration which must be cleared before doing anything
- Have to brave 20-30kt winds in dinghy to clear Customs/Immigration on Friday so we wouldn’t have to wait through the weekend for them to re-open… EEEK! (Side note: got hit with unanticipated charge of $300 for new cruising permit because we hadn’t returned within 90 days of leaving Bahamas… ouch!)
- Start diagnosing engine coolant leak (a much slower process when trying to avoid completely disabling engine allowing for a potential emergency move if needed)
- Awaiting calmer winds to get to Marsh Harbour which will have better overall facilities available
- Side note: Kris has managed to access an ESPN Internet feed allowing us to stream today’s WSU Cougar football game through our stereo… Go Cougs!
- Move 23 nautical miles to Marsh Harbour
- Further diagnostics today and the following day convinces me that the freshwater coolant circulating pump is ultimately the source of the problem (again, this is a slow process based upon a reluctance to completely disassemble everything leaving us unable to run the engine in an emergency). The realization that replacing the water pump would require removal of the timing belt and numerous pulleys put this beyond my scope of comfort. Part of our learning evolution is realizing when you are in too deep to go it alone… time to bring in outside help.
- We contact a Bahamian named Basil based upon multiple recommendations that he is the best diesel mechanic in Marsh Harbour. He is available to come to the boat on the 30th.
- Basil comes out via our dinghy and confirms the water pump is, in fact, the problem.
- Parts are ordered from Trans Atlantic Diesel in the U.S. They estimate 3 day delivery to Marsh Harbour.
12/4 – 12/11:
- Parts arrive in Nassau – this is the start of an excruciatingly slow Customs/Duty clearance
- Multiple calls made to FedEx over the next week by Kris to arrange required paperwork (which, incidentally, was already attached to the outside of the box), and sort out endless bullshit that prevented Customs from releasing the package. No amount of jumping ahead of potential problems by providing documentation in advance or chasing down issues with multiple phone calls seemed to accelerate this brain-numbing process.
- Multiple weather fronts roll through Marsh Harbour. Over the course of the following week, we clock more than 720 degrees at anchor due to wind changes
- Side note: During this time Kris ordered an SD card for a satellite connection allowing us to get weather updates offshore. The card is shipped from Europe and is mistakenly shipped to Turks and Caicos. After Kris receives a call from the accidental recipient, the card is put back on a plane to Nassau. It appears that, despite the mis-ship, the SD card may reach us before the engine parts.
- FedEx tracking indicates engine parts to arrive Marsh Harbour by 6pm today
- Three mile walk to FedEx office (they don’t deliver to a boat at anchor). Turns out parts didn’t get on the plane in Nassau… come back tomorrow.
- The silver lining: ridiculously tasty ribs and a fully loaded baked potato from a local food shack.
- Parts are actually in our hands after our second three mile walk to FedEx in 24 hours. This includes some additional spare parts we opted to acquire while available (see… we’re learning). Parts cost is approximately US$900…
- PLUS an additional $700 duty on the FedEx bill… holy shit! The official FedEx line is there was no clear indication this was a necessary part for our engine despite all the documentation and explanations to the contrary (a part necessary for our engine to run is exempt from all duty and should only be charged the 12% VAT tax). Kris would initiate a refund claim that still had not been resolved three weeks later.
- Basil came on Saturday and partially finished repair. At Basil’s request, we have moved Exit into a slip at one of the marinas. Understandably, the risk of bringing out tools on a dinghy as well as a more readily available access to getting on and off the boat for potential trips to the hardware store or other possible scenarios makes this request seem most reasonable.
- Sunday – no work day
- Basil finishes pump replacement but we have to wait 24 hrs for sealant to set before starting engine
- Start engine and everything seems good
- Celebration pizza at Snappa’s Grill
12/19 – 12/22:
- Big wind blows though with 25+kt winds over next couple of days
- We make the mistake of sitting through this tied up in the marina. Taking it up the ass with our stern to the waves made for a very uncomfortable few days. The idea that being tied to a dock in a marina provides extra security is largely a myth. The boat is trapped in a slip, secured with multiple lines that prevent it from banging around like a pinball. Swinging freely at anchor, bow to the wind, is almost always going to be a better situation as long as you have adequate chain out and room to swing (lesson learned).
- Sometimes you just have to go with the flow…
- Move 20 nautical miles to Spencers Bight anticipating heading offshore for Christmas
- After setting anchor, it becomes apparent that we still have an engine problem. A quick inspection reveals that the timing belt has shifted so that it is hanging a quarter inch over the edge of the gears it runs on and is now melting a track through the timing case cover. Big problem… shit!
- A call goes out to Basil. He offers to drive to Little Harbour, which is five miles away from our current location but the closest point at which we can pick him up by dinghy. Trying to be courteous of the holidays, we tell him to wait until after Christmas. As it turns out, Basil is unavailable to come the day after Christmas, and an increase in winds means we can’t get to Little Harbour until the 29th. Consequently, we sit out a wind storm that reaches 35 knot wind speeds (the biggest we’ve ever seen at anchor) in completely exposed conditions with a largely disabled engine. More than a bit daunting; nevertheless, Exit performs brilliantly and keeps us perfectly safe. Ironically, it was probably more stressful in the Marsh Harbour marina with lesser winds. The only casualty – our snubber (which acts as a shock absorber between the anchor chain and boat) took quite a beating and ended up barely making it through the storm.
- The pleasant distraction from it all with Christmas celebration: fondue (and steak for Steve), eggnog with Kraken rum (yum!) and cinnamon rolls with rum frosting (yum-yum!) topped off with a laptop showing of the classic The Grinch That Stole Christmas (the original, of course) and holiday greetings from family and our old Scuba Junkie friends Ewan and Lydia (who just got engaged!!!) in SE Asia… nice.
- To Little Harbour mid-day
- Sunday, no work done
- Basil comes out but can’t sort things out entirely o the boat. The crankshaft gear is not aligning properly on the crankshaft causing the timing belt issues. He brings crank pulley and gear back to his shop to try to better determine the cause of the misalignment.
- Basil unavailable today. We decide to get the hell off the boat for a New Years celebration and go for a dinghy excursion/picnic into the mangroves for the day.
- Basil successfully reassembles everything. After some wrestling and adjusting, the engine starts and runs perfectly. He doesn’t want to charge us for the extra two days but we insist on giving him $100 for each of the two days he came to Little Harbour. Despite the crankshaft misalignment issue, we feel that Basil has been very accommodating in his schedule to help us out, very capable in his work, very friendly to deal with, and very fair in what he has charged us.
- Engine is officially sorted out. Hallelujah!!!! We move 2.5 miles to Lynyard Cay to reduce the swell we are feeling from a shift in the wind
- Move another 2.5 nautical miles back to Spencers Bight to stage for our offshore jump to get the hell out of the Abacos… finally.
- Heading offshore for overnight passage to get to Cat Island, which we were unable to reach last year.
- Side note: As for the SD card that we thought would arrive before our engine parts – it’s still sitting in Nassau Customs. Kris’ many phone calls have all been frustratingly unsuccessful at getting the card released. In the end… fuck it. We left it behind. Maybe we can get this sorted out from elsewhere but our recent experiences with Customs leaves us with little optimism and a rather cynical aftertaste on our tongues.
Overall, a rather benign engine issue that resulted in six weeks of wading through bad luck and bullshit to finally resolve. December 2018 will certainly go down in the books as Livin’ the Dream…
The big bonus of all this…? Lots of stuff checked off the to-do list during all the down time – gearbox and engine oil change, fuel and oil filter changes, re-varnishing in the salon, expansion of Kris’ multi-planter garden, baking bread, and a plethora of other bits and bobs… there’s always a positive in there somewhere, even if you have to dig a bit to find it.